Illinois Public Media News
Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.
The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.
Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.
Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."
Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.
The small village of Philo in east central Illinois has a new water tower.
The village on Monday replaced a 50,000-gallon water tank thought to date back to the late 1800s with a new 250,000-gallon water tower. The older tank was wooden but was replaced by a steel tank in the 1920s or 1930s.
The company Aqua Illinois now runs the village's water system. Company vice president Tom Bruns says the new tower will be safer for the community because it can pump water for six hours if there was a fire, instead of only 45 minutes.
Philo is about 13 miles from downtown Champaign in Champaign County. Aqua Illinois serves residents in seven Illinois counties.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
A neighborhood in east Champaign is about see the long-awaited cleanup of a former manufactured gas plant get underway. Residents in the area contend that that work will not only stop short of what's necessary... but say part of the problem is the city's fault. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
Champaign-Urbana area customers of Illinois American Water would pay nearly 35 percent more for their water service, under a rate request that the company filed Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
This is the second rate increase that Illinois American says is needed to help pay for the new water treatment plant the company built west of Champaign. But spokesperson Kathryn Foster says the increase would pay other improvements as well. She says the increase also includes revenue to pay for "enhancements to the Mattis Avenue water treatment plant, to enhance water quality and operations reliability. And we're also investing in replacing and relocating mains, hydrants and meters."
In all, Foster says the rate hike request reflects more than 37-million dollars spent on the water system in Illinois American's Champaign District. An average residential customer's water bill would go up about 10 dollars, to 41-dollars-67 cents a month. The new rate schedule would also mark a switch from bi-monthly to monthly billing.
Whatever rate increase the ICC approves for Illinois American Water would take effect in the spring of next year. Foster says the next step is the state's comprehensive review process, which will include public hearings and opportunities for public comment.
The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."
But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.
Flooding from last Friday's heavy rainstorm was too much for a group of neighbors living south of the Kraft plant in Champaign. They want the city to do something about the poor drainage in their neighborhood.
James Creighton says his neighborhood has it worse than anyone, and he doesn't just mean last Friday's downpour.
"I believe it was Council member (Karen) Foster who asked three of four weeks ago if John Street was the worst neighborhood. And the answer was no, it was Copper Slough -- my neighborhood, south of Kraft, that's the worst neighborhood," Creighton told the council
He was among about a dozen people from the Copper Slough or Washington Street neighborhood located between Prospect and Mattis who came to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for some flood relief. They brought photos and eyewitness accounts of flooded basements and streets from last Friday and from previous rainstorms. Mary Ann Keith says last Friday's floodwaters came at her from both sides.
"When the water comes from Prospect, it comes from Mattis," Keith said. "It drains both directions. We actually stand outside and watch it come down the street."
Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the problem is a big one, and fixing it won't be easy. An upgrade of the neighborhood's storm sewer system would cost the city millions of dollars it doesn't have. In the meantime, Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department will hold a meeting in the neighborhood next week to listen to people's concerns. And City Engineer Roland White says new eco-friendly techniques like water permeable pavements and raingardens to hold in groundwater could help limit the degree of flooding during future rains.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Still Looking for Money to Finish Its Study
Public donations are being sought with hopes of completing an extensive study on the Mahomet Aquifer in just over six weeks.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
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